Last Friday, President Obama held a televised live chat/town hall meeting in which he answered questions submitted by some 3.6 million viewers. One of the most popular submitted questions dealt with the idea of legalizing marijuana in order to allow the government to regulate and tax it, thereby increasing revenues.
Before anyone scoffs, let's have a look at some things.
First off, putting aside its legitimate medicinal value, can we agree that cannabis sativa is a relatively innocuous recreational drug?
Please, moralizers, spare me your shrill protestations to the contrary. Any argument about the "dangers" of marijuana are exposed as ridiculous when one considers the vast emotional wreckage and the ruinous financial expenditures that occur every year due to the consumption of alcohol in this country. Worried about drugs ruining people's lives? Bring back Prohibition! Ask any police officer responding to loud Friday night revelry which he would rather encounter. Drunks or stoners? There is no physical addiction associated with marijuana; there is no evidence to suggest any correlation between marijuana use and any serious health issues; nor has the oft-touted suggestion that it is a "gateway" drug ever been substantiated.
When one considers the amount of money that state and federal goverment spends on enforcing antequated marijuana laws, including the raiding of medical marijuana clinics in California (courtesy of the insanely puritannical Attorney General John Ashcroft), the real crime would seem to be that uptight law enforcement officials feel the need to persecute stoners while other, more dastardly criminals continue to operate unhindered. (Torture authorizers, for example.)
In spite of the fact that many states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, and Oregon) have decriminalized marijuana, there were still nearly 900,000 persons arrested for cannabis violations throughout the US in 2007. That's the highest annual total ever recorded, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
So, considering all this, if, by changing our laws, we could obviate the need for law enforcement to spend time and money chasing after stoners, our public coffers would be saved a considerable amount of dough. According to Dr. Jon Gettman of Shepherd University, WV, writing in the Bulletin of Cannabis Reform, all levels of government (federal, state, and local) would save $12.9 billion per year by discontinuing enforcement of marijuana laws.
Further, government regulation and taxation could be a revenue source. Up to $32.7 billion annually.
Believe it or not, marijuana is the biggest cash crop in the entire United States, ranking ahead of wheat, soybeans, and even corn! Check this table, adapted from a table presented in Dr. Gettman's bulletin.
So, marijuana generates nearly 50% more revenue than does corn, its nearest competitor. Nearly $36 billion worth of ganja produced in the United States per year. That's a lot of bong hits, eh? I don't know what the bong hits to shekels conversion rate is, but one has to imagine that it would be considerable.
Going back to President Obama's townhall meeting, alas, he wasn't exactly equivocal in his answer to the question. And I quote: "The answer is no, I don't think [legalization] is a good strategy to grow the economy."
Well, after all, despite the fact that most people recognize that marijuana is relatively harmless, the country is just not there yet. And given all the huge political battles that are looming on the President's horizon, I understand that he wouldn't want to give any ammunition to his adversaries who are right now desperately trying to find something with which to fight him. Besides, at the very least, the new Justice Department has announced that they will no longer conduct raids on medical marijuana clinics.
So give Obama some credit... he didn't avoid the question. That, in itself, is progress. And, really, in many places, including here in Portland, marijuana is de facto legal anyway.
After a thorough inspection of the house, they found that the burglars had taken some beer out of the refrigerator and a little cash. "It was probably some teenage kids," the officer concluded. "But it's odd that they didn't take your pot."
He shrugged and told her to keep her door locked.